Safety

Mexico Safety Statement

International Youth Initiative

02/01/2011

International Youth Initiative and our staff are very aware of the changes the last two years of the drug war in Mexico have brought. The number of youth groups and churches choosing to cross into Tijuana to work with youth and families there has dropped considerably. Our weekly trips there to assist and train in youth ministry have been drastically reduced as well as we have had to consider the risk factors involved and many have chosen not to go into Mexico for a time. But for the last two years IYI has continued to take a small number of youth groups, churches, families, and trainers into Tijuana, with no incident. Part of this is because of the regular policy International Youth Initiative has always taken that the safety of the U.S. participants is one of our highest priorities at all times. With this at the heart of what we do, along with heightened measures to ensure the greatest possible safety for a trip of this kind, IYI has taken the following safety steps to try to reduce the risk involved for anyone crossing the border into Mexico with our organization.

  1. IYI is focusing its efforts on churches and communities in the border areas of Otay Mesa, most sites being less than 20 minutes from the border. This reduces the travel and time in Mexico. Our IYI Ministry Center is just ten minutes across the Otay Mesa Border Crossing.
  2. All groups caravan into Mexico together reducing the risk of any cars wandering into difficult areas or becoming any kind of target for violence.
  3. All IYI staff are under a clear directive and each group leader understands that at the first sign of any potential problem that the group will leave immediately to head for the border.  This is for the protection of the participating group members, the IYI staff, and the people we gather together for our work.
  4. We have increased the number of required IYI staff for each trip and have trained all IYI staff extensively in how to avoid potential problems and how to respond if any problems do arise. Again, safety is the key element with any group. We can always return again in the future if there are any real concerns at all.
  5. We have asked each local leader to become more aware of the violence and drug activities in their community in order to avoid potentially difficulties.
  6. We are requiring that each church provide individuals at each site for security. The purpose of this security is to be watchful of any potential problems or unusual activity. A local will know far better what is normal and can talk with others more openly about what is happening at any moment. 
  7. We have reduced the amount of time we spend openly in communities inviting people to activities or assisting with needs in each community.
  8. We presently are not taking any groups to work with churches, youth, or families in the down town area of Tijuana where most of the violence has taken place. We no longer allow any group associated with IYI to shop in this area for souvenirs or eat in these areas.
  9. Our U.S. staff regularly checks for any information about problems in the areas we work in or anywhere in Tijuana and surrounding communities. We seek to be aware of any increased problems or apparent trends. Knowledge of the problems gives us the greatest possible opportunity to avoid conflict while having the greatest impact on any community.
  10. In a recent unofficial discussion with an U.S. Border Patrol officer, he shared with me that things in the Tijuana area have calmed considerably. He said that while the potential for problems always exists, that it seems most of the real problems are in the border areas of Texas. He said that things were getting back to normal for tourism downtown, but do not go there at night. Most of the problems with U.S. citizens are the same as they always have been, someone doing what they should not be doing at night in an area where they should not be.  When I asked him if he knew of any violence towards or problems with U.S. church groups going down to assist the people there, he said he has known of no problems at all other than small thefts this whole time.

Following is a statement from the United States Department of State on the conditions in Mexico in September 2010:

Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year.  This includes tens of thousands who cross the border every day for study, tourism or business and at least one million U.S. citizens who live in Mexico.  The Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations.   Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major drug trafficking routes.  Nevertheless, crime and violence are serious problems.  While most victims of violence are Mexican citizens associated with criminal activity, the security situation poses serious risks for U.S. citizens as well.   

It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks involved in travel to Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and who to contact if one becomes a victim of crime or violence.  Common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where criminal activity might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable.  –  http://travel.state.gov/travel

While it seems the public problems have decreased considerably in the areas we work, International Youth Initiative is aware that the nature of the drug wars in Mexico is violent and problems can erupt at any time. While we would want to guarantee no problems in the areas we work, we cannot make that guarantee. We want to make it very clear to all participants and parents that while there is an increased potential for problems in Mexico at this time, IYI is doing all we can to decrease the number of potential problems. But this does not mean that we can control or predict at any time the violence that may occur. Again, you can refer to the U.S. Department of States travel warnings to understand any recent problems surrounding the Tijuana area. 

While we want to make sure everyone involved in our Tijuana ministry is aware of the potential for problems, we also want to make sure everyone involved realizes that the youth and families of Mexico are more desperate than ever for a reason for hope and assistance in making their lives better. While the Mexican people are aware everyday of the potential problems, they are also aware of their need for real answers in the midst of it all. IYI will continue to bring the only real hope Jesus Christ can provide while bringing as many resources to them as we can to help in their day to day lives. We are committed to reaching this generation of youth first in Tijuana, then the country of Mexico. The real battle in Mexico is for the hearts of this generation of youth and the future potential for change they represent. 

Keith King

IYI Executive Director